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Sarah Musgrave: Honoring our 2020 Volunteer Award Winners

Sarah Musgrave, Volunteer Award Recipient, honored at The Advocates’ Human Rights Awards Dinner 2020

Sarah Musgrave is one of the five recipients of The Advocates for Human Rights Volunteer Awards. She is an active member in the Minneapolis community and committed to her volunteer work. Musgrave helps set the welcoming and supportive tone for The Advocates’ Minneapolis office.  As a volunteer receptionist, Musgrave is the first face clients see when walking through the door and she welcomes each person with open arms – making them feel noticed and comfortable. This past month, I had the opportunity to interview Musgrave about her volunteer work with The Advocates and learn about the impact that she has had within the world of human rights.

Musgrave has worked with The Advocates for eight years, volunteering in several capacities including as an assistant at The Advocates’ tent at the Minnesota State Fair, as a helper with mailings, and, most recently, as a part-time receptionist a few times a week. Musgrave began volunteering with The Advocates eight years ago after going to one of their film series that they hosted in a local library in Minneapolis. At the end of the film, Musgrave put her name on a sign-up sheet and found herself a part of a loving and supportive community that she has “great respect for.”

As an assistant working at The Advocates’ booth at the State Fair, Musgrave recalls an impactful moment with a visitor:  “I was once at the State Fair and someone with a Trump t-shirt was walking by the booth and I stopped him and asked him if he wanted to take a spin [referring to the Advocates’ spinning wheel in the booth that poses participants with questions] and he did and he answered a question and then I gave him a pin. And then I just saw him walking away with a “I love human rights” pin and …. You know it made me think about human rights. I had no idea where that [pin] was going to go.”

As a receptionist, Musgrave works a couple times a week welcoming people into the office, answering and transferring phone calls, and maintaining the United Nations Deadline Database. The database includes the dates that special rapporteurs examining poverty and violence against women will visit certain countries, as well as specific dates that committees meet at the United Nations. When I asked Musgrave what she liked most about working with The Advocates, she described to me the warmth that she feels working at the front desk: “Working at the front desk and just seeing people going through the asylum process and then they get it … just the joy they have of being able to work through it and have people working with them is just neat. These are people who don’t really have a whole lot of support and then to have people working behind them, totally on their behalf, to get them in the country and the appreciation they have for it…” Since Minnesota’s stay-at-home orders were put in place due to COVID-19, Musgrave has continued her receptionist work from home – updating the database and transferring calls.

When asked what motivates her to continue her volunteer work, Musgrave responded, “I really believe in the cause … everyone should have the opportunity to progress.” She was sure to mention the hopeful atmosphere that exists within the organization: “Everyone is just so positive. It is just a really positive place to be.”  She began to talk about how much she respects and admires the organization and the way they are able to bring volunteers in from all walks of life. “They are very welcoming! Everyone has different talents and they are willing to work with you to find something that benefits both parties.” For Musgrave, she feels as though she has benefited from volunteering in a number of ways, including being able to have the “great opportunity to explore things within the human rights community.” I asked her what keeps her volunteering with The Advocates and she quickly answered by saying, “I just really enjoy doing it… I don’t know why I would give up something I enjoy doing… people thank me for doing this, but I really enjoy doing this – it’s not like I am sacrificing a whole lot…”

In addition to working with The Advocates, Musgrave is an advocate for the environment and works closely with the Sierra Club and other climate change related organizations. In her free time, she enjoys biking in nature and exploring her surroundings. While Musgrave expresses deep gratitude for the work of The Advocates, it is important to note that The Advocates expresses a similar gratitude for her presence and impact on the organization. Thank you, Sarah, for all of the work that you do. Your positiveness is infectious and your passion for volunteering is inspiring. It is with great pleasure that The Advocates presents to you a 2020 Volunteer Award.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

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Amano Dube: Honoring Our 2020 Volunteer Award Recipients

Amano Dube, The Advocates For Human Rights Volunteer Award Recipient

Amano Dube, a leader in the Minneapolis community, is one of five recipients receiving The Advocates for Human Rights Volunteer Award. Dube is the Director of Public Sector Programs at Pillsbury United Communities’ Brian Coyle Center, a social service center that supports the local immigrant community. Prior to working at the Center, Dube was the Executive Director of the Oromo Community of Minnesota, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of the Oromo in Minnesota. For the last five years, Dube has volunteered with The Advocates, connecting immigrants and refugees who are seeking asylum with volunteer attorneys and helping to interpret asylees’ testimonies. This past month, I had the opportunity to speak with Dube about his work with The Advocates and to learn about the impact he has made in his community.

Dube, an asylee from the Oromo community in Ethiopia, came to the United States in 1994:

“Knowing how I came to this country, what kind of help I got – by the way, when I came to this country, I did not have a language program interpreting for me – [ motivated me to help others] … I have seen so many clients who come to this country with nothing in terms of education and they fully rely on somebody who is bilingual and who speaks their language and understands English.”

Dube has worked for over twenty years with community organizations connecting refugees and immigrants to assistance, including to asylum help. “I stepped up to bridge that gap and there are people that rely on me as a person who knows them and knows the atrocities in their country.”

Dube learned about The Advocates while working at the Oromo Community of Minnesota trying to connect members of the community with necessary resources. During this process, Dube discovered The Advocates and the work that they do in helping asylees. As a volunteer with The Advocates, Dube connects those that come to him for asylum help with The Advocates’ services. “From the day they come to me, I first call The Advocates for Human Rights. I connect that client with staff there so that they can schedule interviews and appointments… and then my role during this time is basically helping with language interpretation and document interpretation sometimes.” 

When I asked Dube to describe an impactful moment that he had while volunteering with The Advocates, he took a moment to think and then began to tell me about the experiences of a young Oromo adult with medical complications from Ethiopia who sought asylum. “I received a call from the Mayo Clinic about somebody who came to the country because of a traumatic injury, who was also a victim of political prosecution. He had a disease that partially paralyzed his body.” The man was sick, could not speak English, did not know the country, and could no longer afford treatment. Dube called the man to see what he could do to help. The next day, Dube drove an hour and a half to visit the young man at the Mayo Clinic. “I saw him in the hospital, and he said ‘get me out of here. Do whatever you can do for me.’ He was really desperate to meet someone who could understand him and comfort him.” Dube then remembered the work of The Advocates and believed that this young Oromo man was the type of person that could benefit from their help in the asylum process. “So, I decided to bring him to my home and give him a bedroom. My wife and I decided that if God can help him and the American system can help him, then we will do our part by helping to feed him and dress him.” Two days later, Dube called The Advocates and explained the situation and they scheduled an interview for the man. “I drove him to The Advocates’ office. They interviewed him, they took his case, asylum was filed, and he was connected to the Center for Victims of Torture which got him insurance – which he needed for treatment. He then got the asylum and got the most needed treatment.” Dube went silent for a moment. He continued, “now he has gone back to college, majored in micro information systems and accounting, he got married, and he is a husband now living right here close to us.” Dube paused again and then added “and that, I would say, is the most memorable part of the work that The Advocates do. They completely turn around the life of people.”

After clients seek asylum, Dube’s work does not end. Through his work at the Brian Coyle Center, he helps asylees to obtain housing, find jobs, and receive health care. “All of this we do behind the scenes,” he told me: “We live in the community we know what they need … We take this as our responsibility. I am not doing this for The Advocates, I am not doing this for recognition … I do it because it is my role as an Oromo to help another Oromo or Ethiopian. Because I know the language, I am better positioned to help them and to connect them with systems including The Advocates.”

Thank you, Amano. You are a kind, hardworking, and passionate advocate. You lead by example and your work inspires others to become better advocates for social change. It is with great honor that The Advocates for Human Rights presents to you a 2020 Volunteer Award.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

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Kathy Lenzmeier: Honoring the First Recipient of the Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award

Kathy Lenzmeier, The Advocates’ Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award Recipient

Kathy Lenzmeier, a longtime volunteer and former board member of The Advocates for Human Rights, is the first recipient of the Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award. The award was created as a legacy to Marlene and honors individuals who represent the gold standard of excellence in volunteerism, philanthropy, and advocacy.

For the past decade, Lenzmeier has been devoted to the mission of The Advocates and her commitment is evident through the impact she has had locally and internationally. Lenzmeier is currently retired from her work in the commercial insurance industry and, today, devotes a great deal of time and energy to working with The Advocates in protecting human rights. This month I had the opportunity to speak with Lenzmeier about her work with The Advocates and was amazed by her long-term devotion to serving her local community and its organizations.

Ten years ago, Lenzmeier became involved with The Advocates through their project supporting the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) in Nepal. Lenzmeier became interested in Nepal when trekking in the mountains with a friend and so when she saw that The Advocates was involved with a school in the Kathmandu Valley, she immediately wanted to help. The Advocates partners with Educate the Children-Nepal to provide impoverished Nepali children in the Kathmandu Valley with a free education, daily meals, and health care check-ups. Lenzmeier first visited the SPCS in 2012 and has visited four more times since. It was a “very rewarding experience,” Lenzmeier said when describing the positive outcome of her volunteer work there: equal access to education regardless of background, gender parity, and a continued partnership with the school. During her trips to Nepal with The Advocates, Lenzmeier interviewed school leadership, teachers, and students about their experiences at the school and was able to spend time with community members. Lenzmeier’s most recent visit to the school was last fall: “One highlight was being able to see the alumni who came back to visit. There was a nurse, someone working in hotel management, an engineer and a teacher.” She added that she was moved by the fact that “many of these alums were traveling for their jobs to other countries as professionals rather than laborers.” Lenzmeier relayed to me that “today, the school has around 340 students enrolled… and that it only costs $250 to educate one child.”

In addition to her work on the Nepal project, Lenzmeier served on The Advocates’ Board of Directors for nine years, serving on the Development Committee and the Executive Committee. Kathy is currently chairing a committee focused on increasing the sustainability of the organization and the reach of its work. Beyond her work with The Advocates, Lenzmeier also contributes her time to multiple other Minneapolis-based organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and active in the local art scene.

Before ending the interview, I asked Lenzmeier if she had a favorite part about volunteering with The Advocates. She immediately responded that her favorite part of volunteering was the chance to work with the staff. “When I was on the board … I was most impressed by the staff – there isn’t turn over, they are so committed, they are so qualified.”  She then added that she admires “how careful [The Advocates are] with their money. How they can stretch a dollar so far in defending human rights throughout the world. And doing it locally, nationally, and internationally – it is very impressive.” While Lenzmeier admires the staff and the work done at The Advocates, The Advocates are beyond grateful to her and for her work.  

Thank you, Kathy, for all of the work that you do with The Advocates and in your community. The Advocates are excited to present to you the Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award for your continued commitment to human rights and social impact.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

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Joan Kuriansky: Celebrating the Work of Our Volunteers

Joan Kuriansky, The Advocates For Human Rights Volunteer Award Recipient

The work done by The Advocates for Human Rights is fueled by its team of talented volunteers. One of these volunteers is Joan Kuriansky, a Washington D.C.­–based lawyer, with a strong commitment to women’s rights work, domestic violence issues, and human rights advocacy. Kuriansky began volunteering with The Advocates in the late 1990s and, ever since, has been a consistent volunteer. I recently had the chance to speak with Kuriansky about her career, including her work with The Advocates.

Moments into the interview, Kuriansky’s passion for human rights advocacy became evident as she excitedly explained to me about some of her past jobs and projects. “It is a lot of fun for me to do this work. I have been involved, especially with the issue of domestic violence, since 1978,” she told me. Kuriansky was the co-founder of a battered women’s program in DC, My Sister’s Place, she ran a legal center in Philadelphia protecting domestic violence victims, and she worked on the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.

Throughout her time volunteering for The Advocates, Kuriansky has worked on a number of different projects. Her first project was in Ukraine providing advocates with domestic violence training. Kuriansky then conducted an in-depth study in Armenia related to domestic violence issues. The report consisted of interviews with attorneys, prosecutors, advocates, and government officials. “And that was my introduction to the work of The Advocates. Already, I was impressed with the way they structured their training, the relationships they were forming, and the breadth of the work,” Kuriansky told me during our interview. Her report was later used to inform future advocacy work of The Advocates in Armenia.

One of Kuriansky’s favorite parts of volunteering with The Advocates is being a part of their annual United Nations Study-Advocacy trip to Geneva. Since 2016, Kuriansky has been an integral member of The Advocates team of volunteers that lobbies at the United Nations. She has co-facilitated panel discussions, delivered a short presentation to the full body of the Human Rights Commission, sat in on country hearings, and met with special rapporteurs and individual delegates from around the world. Kuriansky credits The Advocates for the impact that she has been able to have in Geneva:

“It was because of the extraordinary preparation of The Advocates’ staff that we, as volunteers, could be useful and, I hope, effective. It would not have been possible for us to have had the impact that we did, if we did not have the very well-developed materials and instructions about how to go forward with meeting with these different delegates.”

She noted that many of the team’s recommendations have been incorporated into official comments to various countries under review and some countries have even directly implemented their recommendations:

“In one instance we saw a country increase its funding for domestic violence programs. We also saw that certain laws were changed in keeping with the recommendations. In another instance, moving from law to administration, we saw where a country reorganized its response to domestic violence and the role that the different members of the legal community would play in that regard.”

Currently, Kuriansky is working with The Advocates on various shadow reports, including one on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on domestic violence. Kuriansky’s shadow report is particularly focused on the D.C. metropolitan area.

When I asked Kuriansky why she chooses to volunteer to with The Advocates, her answer was simple. She told me that she enjoyed the direct application of the work. She praised The Advocates’ advocacy skills:

“One of the great aspects of The Advocates in my mind, is their ability to present information in a way that is compelling, raises hard issue that could otherwise be responded to very defensively by a country but, because of the methodology and on the ground support, the recommendations that come from The Advocates … are taken very seriously and sometimes you don’t find that is the case if a country believes that the outside groups, which are coming in to “criticize” them, are not very respectful of the people in it.”

Kuriansky is a model volunteer – longstanding, enthusiastic, dedicated, passionate, and knowledgeable – and is a role model for many. Just as Kuriansky credits The Advocates with being effective change makers, The Advocates credit her with helping to actualize that change.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

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This is No Ordinary Mother’s Day

Sarah Brenes with her mother, a nurse, on “Take Your Daughter to Work Day”

This is my first Mother’s Day without my mama. I am reminded of her every day, as I follow the news about healthcare professionals on the frontline of caring for the sick and neighbors making masks. My mom was a nurse and knew how to sew—both skills have proven essential during this current pandemic. I went into law, not healthcare, and can barely sew a button. Like many working mothers, I try to have patience with myself during these unusual times, as it feels as if the Coronavirus took the seesaw that is work/life balance and threw it up into a windstorm. I keep reminding myself that so long as we are safe and healthy at home, I just need to hold on tight and ride out the storm. For many of the mothers we serve as part of our work at The Advocates for Human Rights serving asylum seekers, the storm of upheaval is much greater before things return to normal. This Mother’s Day, I pause to acknowledge the extraordinary resilience that many of our clients are required to demonstrate in order to return to, or perhaps begin, the ordinary task of motherhood.

I recall my first asylum interview with a client when I returned to work after giving birth to my daughter, Cecilia.

Sarah’s daughter, Cecilia, dancing in a dress sewn by her mother and grandmother

The client was a prominent journalist in her home country. She had an accomplished career covering all topics, including politics. Her work covering corrupt practices heading up to the country’s presidential elections eventually resulted in her being targeted and raped by government officials for reporting on its corrupt acts. She learned she was pregnant after arriving in the U.S. — her son just a few months older than my daughter.  

I was raised in a white middle-class family in the 1980’s. My mom was a daughter of the 50’s. As a high schooler, the only extracurricular my mom could participate in was cheerleading. Less than 10% of women had college degrees by the time she started nursing school. I was raised with new doors opened under Title IX and my mom was committed to enrolling me in every sport, musical activity and academic extracurricular that she could. I went on to graduate college and earn my law degree, when women were approaching 50% of law graduates (there is still a long way to go on equality in the profession, but that is for another blog). I managed to start a family while in law school and was in step with many of my peers, nimbly managing work and home life. My life experience could not be more different from my client’s, yet we were connected by our womanhood, our motherhood and our desire to pursue a meaningful career.

I remember preparing the client for her interview.  Having the privilege of not knowing what it was like to be violated by government officials, I did not know how she managed to carry the weight of that horror alongside her unborn child, or welcome this new innocent life into the world, having come from one of the darkest places of humanity.

In unlawyer-like fashion, I broke down during my closing statement. The pain and suffering this client endured for her allegedly political acts as a journalist were undeniable. It was a slam dunk, as far as the legal case was concerned. Yet I could not hold back tears as I pleaded that the officer grant her case swiftly, “so that she can know that she is safe here and can just focus on being a mom.”

In 2019, we saw an unprecedented number of pregnant women come to The Advocates for help. Some fled in order to protect their unborn daughters from female genital mutilation (FGM). Others were pregnant from rape, by a partner, a government official or a gang member who ordered her to visit him for conjugal visits. Other mothers fled alone, leaving children behind, to be reared by family or friends, or whom they would struggle to remain connected with, mothering from afar.  

International Human Rights Law as it relates to refugees is premised on the simple goal of protecting families and individuals who face life-threatening harm to the point it is no longer safe to remain in their home country. Over the years, the U.S. has complicated the rules to limit those protections and access to the process to seek it.

We have jailed mothers with their children, separated moms from their babies, added to the checklist of en route requirements before seeking protection in the United States and most recently moved and then closed the door where mothers can ask lady liberty for protection for themselves and their families. We have turned on mother’s who are beaten and limited the definition of “family” in pursuit of limiting who can find safety in the U.S. when there was none at home.

All of this has made extraordinary the work of ordinary attorneys who volunteer with us to help the over 600 asylum seekers we provide free legal services to each year.  

Things are not quite normal for anyone these days, but this Mother’s Day I am safe at home…with my family. For most clients, this most simple wish is what they hope to come true when they come in to seek our help. To be safe; to have a place to call home; to be with your family–these most basic human rights are what drive us to keep coming to work, even if we have to stay home.   

Masks sewn by Sarah’s neighbors, made from Sarah’s mom’s quilt fabrics

If you are an ordinary attorney who wants to do extraordinary work, join our volunteer team.  If you speak another language, join our volunteer interpreter network.  If you want to help us make mother’s day an ordinary celebration for our clients, donate to support our work.

By Sarah Brenes, Director of the Refugee & Immigration Program at The Advocates For Human Rights

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals. 

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Remote Volunteers Help NGOs Engage with the United Nations

Civil society organizations play a crucial role in human rights monitoring at the United Nations. The mission of the United Nations – to monitor, protect, and advance human rights around the world – is best carried out when civil society actively participates. Non-governmental organizations, activists, and academics provide valuable information about human rights violations that governments miss or cover up. For instance, they can submit written information in the form of a “shadow” or “alternative” report. These reports give activists an opportunity to share local human rights violations directly with the international community and, ultimately, to change laws and policies.

While the United Nations welcomes civil society participation, the opportunities and deadlines for participation are not so easy to track down. Each mechanism has a different system, which is why we need volunteers to become experts on each one and compile the information into one easy-to-use database.

Flag of the United Nations

Thanks to a team of nine paralegal volunteers and twelve other remote volunteers, The Advocates facilitates civil society engagement with United Nations and Regional Human Rights mechanisms through an online deadline database. The database is searchable by country and provides up-to-date, accurate information about reporting opportunities all in one place. Without this team of volunteers, non-governmental organizations may be left in the dark about opportunities to engage with the United Nations.

As someone who personally works with our volunteers on a regular basis, I can attest to their enthusiasm and discipline. I am always impressed with how eager they are to know all the ins and outs of the United Nations monitoring process, even though they don’t need to know all the specifics for this work. It is a steep learning curve, yet they are always up to the challenge. I also appreciate how responsive they are to my many emails about updating the database when unexpected changes arise.

The global pandemic has not stopped them from continuing their work, even when many of their own workloads have increased. One volunteer recently told me she was going to check on the deadlines weekly as opposed to bi-weekly, just so she could make sure she caught all the updates due to COVID-19. Many other volunteers worked to quickly turn around new deadlines that changed due to COVID-19 so that our international partners at the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty could stay up to date.

When I asked our volunteers why they took on this work, here is how they responded. I hope you can see for yourself that something as simple as a database can have a big impact.

“The Advocates for Human Rights does important work and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to contribute my time to such a cause.” – Paralegal Volunteer

“I have been overwhelmed by the changes in policy toward immigrants and anyone in the world really who needs help. The first work I did for Advocates was on an asylum case. Even though we were not successful, the appreciation shown to me, by the wife and children of the man who was eventually deported, made me realize that I needed desperately to fill a hole in my life. When our pro bono director reached out to me on entering deadlines for treaty bodies, I jumped at the opportunity.  There are still many things out there that make me sad, but doing this work, as minimal as it is, helps fill the “hole”.” – Paralegal Volunteer

“I took it on because it sounded terribly interesting and I wanted to contribute (albeit in a VERY small way) to making the world (not just my little suburban corner of it) a better place. I like to think that it enables someone (individuals or groups) to make a case to protect and improve the lives of those who cannot (or are not able) to do so themselves.” – Paralegal Volunteer

“Something that has always been important to me, is to ensure I put aside time to give back to the community, and beyond. Advocating for human rights is so crucial to promote equality within the community, society and all over the world. For me, volunteering my time to The Advocates of Human Rights, and having any part in facilitating their mission, is a real honor.” – Paralegal Volunteer

By Elizabeth Lacy, Program Assistant for Women’s Human Rights and International Justice Programs at The Advocates For Human Rights

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.